THOUSANDS of Oxford homes might this week avoid flooding thanks to measures put in place, the Environment Secretary has told the Oxford Mail.
In an exclusive interview, Owen Paterson, below, said 4,300 properties around Osney Island could escape being flooded because of measures the Government has taken, such as temporary barriers put up in the city.
As floods continued to sweep across the country yesterday, the minister was under attack by critics who say flood defence budgets have been cut too far and will be cut again.
Fifteen flood warnings were yesterday in place in the county, with businesses on Oxford’s Abingdon Road saying they could lose thousands of pounds of income because the road is shut.
Some properties have also been damaged by flood water, while several roads have been shut and thousands of people have had to prepare for the worst.
Evening traffic on the city’s flooded Botley Road ground to a halt, with one-mile journeys from the city centre reportedly taking up to two hours at one stage.
The county council said last night it may have to close the road if river levels kept rising.
And the Environment Agency warned Oxfordshire residents to prepare for more flooding for the rest of the week, with water levels expected to peak today.
It said more unsettled weather over the next few days would see rain falling on already saturated ground, increasing the chance of flooding.
Along the River Thames, water levels yesterday remained high and continue to rise.
But Mr Paterson said things would have been worse without measures such as the Osney Island barriers.
“This is an absolutely brilliant scheme which could protect 4,300 properties,” he said.
“We have protected millions of properties around the country over Christmas and New Year and that’s why this Government is determined to spend more than any previous Government in this spending round on this issue.
“We intend to spend £2.3bn up until 2021. Local councils can come to us and get more projects over the barrier.”
The budget for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been cut by £500m since 2010 and officials there must find £300m in savings by 2016.
But Mr Paterson said Oxfordshire would not suffer as a result.
He visited the Environment Agency’s base in Bridge Street where he was shown Osney Lock and some of the defences around the island.
River levels are expected to rise “over the next couple of days”, the Environment Agency warned yesterday. Further heavy rain overnight was also forecast by the Met Office and again tonight.
David Bedlington, regional flood risk manager for the Environment Agency, said: "It is important to take extra care in deep or flowing water. Do not take risks if you are unsure of the depth of the water or of any hidden hazards.”
City council workers were continuing to pump the water in Bullstake Close, West Oxford, and constructed another flood barrier to prevent homes from flooding. In Abingdon, the mayor Sam Bowring said flooding was at levels she had never seen before – although officials say the flooding compares with that seen in 2012.
Ferry Hinksey Road, off Botley Road, was shut for a time due to serious flooding. Seacourt Park-and-Ride was also closed due to flooding and there were reports throughout the day of traffic delays.
Grandpont Nursery School and children's centre closed yesterday and is not expected to be open today.
A flood warning was issued last night for the River Thames in the Wolvercote area.
Due to flooding blocking the line between Swindon and Bristol Parkway, trains between Didcot Parkway and South Wales were subject to delays and cancellations yesterday. Buses in the city were also severely delayed because of the flooding, while some businesses in Witney reported flood damage.
The county council was urged by readers contacting the Mail yesterday to open the High Street to traffic, but the authority said it only did this when both Abingdon Road and Botley Road were closed.